After reaching the quarterfinals at the last two World Cups, Australia will expect to at least match that performance in Canada next summer. The bulk of the young team that played in Germany four years ago should be in Canada. Head coach Alen Stajcic was named interim coach for the 2014 Asian Cup in May, where the Matildas finished runners-up to Japan to clinch a World Cup berth. He was named permanent boss in September. Central midfielder Katrina Gorry was outstanding at the Asian Cup, scoring three goals – all from long range. Four years ago Caitlin Foord won Best Young Player honors at the 2011 World Cup and the versatile 20-year-old will be a key part of the Australian offense, either playing wide on the right or pushing up from an outside back defensive position. Star striker Kyah Simon missed the Asian Cup due to injury after missing the entire 2013-14 season, has recently returned to the field with Sydney FC in the W-League. Injuries could be an issue for the Matildas, with veteran goalkeeper Lydia Williams (Western New York Flash) made the squad even though she has been racing to complete ACL rehab in time.
Nigeria won its ninth African Championship in October to qualify for its seventh World Cup. The Super Falcons have long been in a class of their own against African opponents, but that has not carried over to the world stage. Despite appearing in every World Cup, Nigeria has only advanced beyond the group stage once (in 1999, when they reached the quarterfinals). Expectations though are rising for Nigeria following the success of the U-20 team at the World Cup in Canada in August. Nigeria finished runners-up to Germany at the 2014 U-20 World Cup and Asisat Oshoala, who won the Golden Boot and MVP at the U-20 World Cup also won MVP honors at the African Women’s Championships (AWC) in Namibia. She pairs up top in a 4-4-2 with Desire Oparanozie, who claimed Golden Boot honors in Namibia with five goals. Both scored in the 2-0 win over Cameroon in the AWC final. Head coach Edwin Okon favors Nigeria based players — for the AWC his squad including 11 players from Rivers Angels FC, the team he coaches club in the Nigerian league. Nigeria has a roster full of Olympic and World Cup experience, and also has the advantage of training and playing on artificial turf in their home country and in qualifying — having played all their AWC matches on a surface similar to those in Canada.
Led by head coach Pia Sundhage (who led the U.S. to a runners-up finish at the 2011 World Cup and gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics), Sweden will look to win its first World Cup in Canada. Sundhage has plenty of veteran talent at her disposal, such as star striker Lotta Schelin, midfield veterans Caroline Seger and Therese Sjogran, plus the versatile Nilla Fischer, who can play either on defense or in midfield. Exciting attacking midfielder Kosovare Asslani will make her World Cup debut in Canada after helping Sweden finish fourth at the 2012 London Games. Sweden has played in every World Cup, finishing runners-up in 2003 and in third place four years ago. Hugely popular with her U.S. team, Sundhage returned home to Sweden after the London Games to lead her native-land as it prepared to host Euro 2013. Sweden lost 1-0 in the semifinals to Germany, but will look to improve on that result in Canada.
Australia have reached the quarterfinals in the last two World Cup, they will expect to do it again.
The U.S. heads to Canada as the FIFA world ranked number 2 team and looking to win the World Cup for the first time in 16 years. For the perennial power of women’s soccer the goal is straight forward: end their World Cup title drought. That was made crystal clear when U.S. Soccer fired Tom Sermanni as USWNT head coach in April 2014, just 15 months into his tenure. Jill Ellis replaced him on a permanent basis in May. Very much an X’s and O’s coach, Ellis has introduced a more flexible tactical approach, moving away from the traditional 4-4-2 and looking for her team to be able to play in different formations from opponent to opponent as well as within any given game. She has at her disposal a wealth of talent that has vast World Cup and Olympic Games experience. Abby Wambach is the all-time leading goal scorer (182 goals) in women’s international soccer. She’ll be 35 on the eve of the World Cup and looks to win the one title that has eluded her. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd are World Cup veterans that all bring creativity flair and significant firepower to the U.S. offense. As do Christen Press and Sydney Leroux, two gifted attacking players that will be making their World Cup debuts in Canada. The U.S. has one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Hope Solo, and the defense is anchored by the only player on the team to have won a World Cup: Christie Rampone, who is making a return from injury. She was a member of the 1999 World Cup winning squad, making one substitute appearance in the finals. Rampone is now the mother of two daughters and will be 40 years old at the World Cup. Her mission, like everyone else on Team USA, is simple: raise the trophy in Vancouver this summer.
Nigeria are always the top of African teams, but can they translate that on the world stage?
Sweden are a strong side and a coach that knows their competitors, USA, very well.
The United States have one goal this year: win the World Cup in Vancouver.